Since David Berman died in early August, I knew I wanted to write about him, to review his final album released the month before, Purple Mountains. I sat down and wrote the beginning of this article five times and each time, it just felt wrong.
I could say that the album is one of those haunting ones that sends a current of melancholy and some kind of ethereal comfort coursing through my everything. I could say that the lyricism of some songs like “All my happiness is gone” are like blunt knives cutting through to bone only to have the pain swept away by western swing. I could say a lot of things, and I’ll try to in this review, but the album does something more than words can really describe and as much as I hate to fall to the trope of inexpressibility, I feel as though I have to this time.
However, no one wants to read an album review that just tells you to listen to the album, so I suppose I’ll have to try to say something more to convince you that you need to hear it all in one sitting.
Purple Mountains, released under the name Purple Mountains, is Berman’s first release in the 10 years since he ended the 20-year tenure of the Silver Jews. Berman, who was called “the poet laureate of indie rock” by the Washington Post, became a recluse for those 10 years until he appeared out of nowhere with this album, a tour scheduled and then he was gone again.
As painful as his death was and as painful as lyrics like “Go and contemplate the evidence and I guarantee you’ll find / The dead know what they’re doing when they leave this world behind” are, the album doesn’t have the crushing winds of sadness that I expected when I first heard it. Instead, it’s sweet and kind and soft.
There are also some songs like “Margaritas at the Mall” with horns that scream triumph in the face of the “cosmological disappointment,” to use Berman’s words from an interview, of a world where we are “Trodding the sod of the visible with no new word from God.”
Other songs, like “I Loved Being My Mother’s Son,” are just filled with simple sweetness at memory. The lines “She helped me walk, she watched me run / She got where I was coming from” are about as honest and common as can be found, but Berman fills them with a nostalgic power with his perfect delivery.
The album is odd, existential, straightforward, sad, comforting, western, indie, rocking, plain, complicated and just about any other adjective I can think of. But most importantly, the album is just good.
By Kevin Thomas | Editor-in-chief